Footprints Through Time

                        with Archivist Peter Bowman



The Early Years

(Part 1)

Sifting through the papers in the Archives and carefully opening each folder and envelope always turns up some exciting discovery. A black three ring binder labeled “First Secretary’s Notebook” reveals a particularly interesting find.

On the first two pages are the recorded minutes of the second meeting of the Tower Poetry Society, the oldest records of the group that are extant today. The date on them is February 6th, 1952, and places them a good ten months before the publication of the first issue. I say the “Tower Poetry Society” but these records make it clear that the group back then was known only as “The McMaster Poetry Group.” It was their publication of poetry that was to become the “Tower,” named after the tower at the center of McMaster University. However, at the time of these minutes the poetry book as well as the group still remained unnamed.

The minutes report that the meeting took place in the living room of Mrs. W. Jean McCallion at 7:30 p.m. Four members were present and two sent regrets that they were unable to attend. Ida Sutherland Groom, Professor Bernard Groom, Professor George Haddow, and Mrs. W. Jean McCallion were present. Mrs. R. M. Wiles and Mr. John Bell sent their regrets.

The discussion began with Ida Sutherland Groom who read the minutes of the first meeting, reviewing the names of prospective contributors for the proposed booklet of poems. Those names were not listed in the minutes, but from the outset Miss Groom’s intentions were to publish only members of the group. The group learned that the University had offered them the use of a seminar room for their meetings in the Mills Memorial Library without charge. Miss Groom suggested that Mrs. McCallion, who became the group’s first Secretary, write a letter of thanks to Mr. Paterson, Bursar of the University, for his kind offer regarding this matter. It was tentatively decided to ask to reserve a Tuesday and the following Thursday once a month, in hopes that those members who found it impossible to attend the Tuesday meeting could attend the Thursday meeting.

With that most welcome bit of news finalized, the discussion switched to the group’s organization. Since the aim of the group was to compile a booklet of poems, it was felt that a number of poems be solicited from all interested parties. It was suggested that they appoint a selection committee whose job it would be to choose the poems most suitable for publication. The general opinion was that the number chosen from a contributor’s collection should not exceed four or five.

A comment was made by Professor Haddow that Ryerson Press of Toronto might be interested in the publication of the proposed booklet. There was also the chance that a grant of money might be obtained from McMaster University to be used to help defray the publishing costs if it became necessary for the group to publish the booklet themselves. The meeting then closed with each member present promising to contact more potential contributors and to invite them to be present at the next meeting of the Poetry Group. The following week as requested a letter was sent to Mr. Paterson by Mrs. McCallion thanking them for the use of a room at the Library. A carbon copy of that letter is included in the Archives.

The next minutes, found not in the First Secretary’s black binder, but loose amongst other papers in a brown manila envelope, were gathered on three sheets of note paper written with a blue fountain pen in handwriting very difficult to decipher, dated April 15th, 1952. According to these notes, Miss Groom was not present at this meeting so her brother, Professor Bernard Groom, took the chair. Those present were: Mr. Groom, Mrs. MacDonald, Mr. Haddow, Miss Martin, Mr. Bell, and Mrs. Henry.

Before any discussion Mrs. MacDonald was allowed to read two of her humorous poems. It was then agreed upon that a fee of 50 cents would be asked from each member. Mrs. Henry was appointed Treasurer and in the absence of Mrs. McCallion, also the recording secretary. There was a considerable discussion regarding the poems for possible publication and it was decided that three poems from each contributor were to be sent to Professor Haddow before May 15th for his committee to read and select. Mr. Bell then offered to investigate into the expenses of publication by Ryerson Press and others, and also to get in touch with three or four others whose poems might be included with the selections. After deciding that the most suitable day for the next meeting would be Tuesday June 3rd at 4:30 p.m. in the Library at McMaster, the meeting was adjourned.

Exactly which meeting came up with the name
“Tower” for the publication is not in the Archives, but perhaps someone peered out of a window of the Mills Memorial Library to view the campus of McMaster University and came up with it. The tower of University Hall would have been perfectly visible from that vantage point. It was in November of 1952 that the first Tower publication became a reality, and the group reveled in a modest success.

By the approaching summer of 1953 it was generally acknowledged that Miss Ida Sutherland Groom was the chief organizer of the McMaster Poetry Group. On August 25th of that year Miss Groom received a quotation from Robert Duncan & Co., a printing company in Hamilton, to print 250 copies of “Poems” at 36 pages with a cardboard cover, at $197.00 with 10% government sales tax additional. A smaller quote of $190.00 was given for 40 pages without a cover.

Another meeting on September 5, 1953 was held, presumably again in the McMaster Library, for which minutes have been saved. Again they are written in haphazard handwriting on loose pages discovered in an envelope with other assorted papers. Five members were present at this meeting: Miss Groom, Mrs. Wilkinson, Mrs. Henry, Mr. Gordon Johnson, and Mr. John Bell.

An animated discussion erupted immediately regarding the publication of the second issue. Mrs. Marjorie Wilkinson favored a cardboard cover. Mrs. Henry suggested having ‘An Anthology of Poems’ added below the title “The Tower” on the cover. Mrs. Wilkinson was in favor of this new addition. Mr. Johnson suggested putting “Anthology of Poems” on the flyleaf. Mr. Bell was in favor of the flyleaf proposal. Miss Groom preferred just “The Tower” on the outside cover. A vote was taken with three to two in favor of simply “The Tower” on the cover with “An Anthology of Poems” on the flyleaf. Mrs. Henry suggested that for the library, the publisher’s name should also appear on the flyleaf.

Miss Groom, noting the cost with and without a cover then read the Duncan estimate. This was followed by a flurry of excitement about possible future outlets for sales of the book. Miss Groom then read the Treasurer’s statement, which showed they were far short of reaching the desired finances to meet the costs of printing. This information was seemingly forgotten when a suggestion was made by Mr. Johnson that the various libraries be sent form letters advertising the books. Miss Groom then added that advanced notice should be made in the Silhouette, the campus newspaper. Miss Groom also said that copies should be sent to the Governor-General, E. J. Pratt, and others. Mr. Johnson replied that the governor-general idea was ‘ambitious and laudable,’ suggesting that Miss Groom send a letter. She agreed to do so if it met with group approval. Philip Child’s and Earl Birney’s names were also were mentioned as subjects to receive complimentary copies. The price of one dollar per copy was agreed upon.

The topic of conversation then began to focus on an introduction for the book. Dr. Lorne Pierce, editor of Ryerson Press in Toronto was suggested as an introducer. Miss Groom also thought she would be able to find introducers among her English friends who were authors. Dr. Watson Kirkconnel was suggested. James Hereford was suggested. E. J. Pratt was also mentioned. Philip Child, as a Hamiltonian, was also considered to write a foreword. It was decided that the proofreading be done by Miss Groom and Mrs. Wilkinson.

Discussion then reopened over the possibility of having the magazine mimeographed again if printing proved too expensive and Dr. Pierce decided not to publish. The work involved in mimeographing was taken into consideration and a decision was made that the least expensive estimate should be taken.

The second issue was published in the fall of 1953. The presence of Dr. Lorne Pierce was suddenly becoming more and more prevalent. We are indeed lucky that these few documents have been passed down to preserve the story of the Tower Poetry Society.

In Part II we will watch the Tower grow beyond the campus of McMaster University in its prestige and influence.

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